Preventing Tooth Decay in Children
If you think cavities are an inevitable part of childhood, think again; tooth decay, which is actually an infectious disease caused by bacteria, is completely preventable. This is a good thing, because tooth decay can be painful and interfere with a child's ability to eat, speak, and focus in school. Parents have a big role to play in helping their children's teeth stay healthy. Here are some things you can do:
Establish an oral hygiene routine. Good oral hygiene practices should start as soon as the first tooth appears. An infant's teeth should be wiped with a clean, damp washcloth each day. Starting at age 2, a brushing routine should be established using a soft-bristled, child-sized brush and just a smear of fluoride toothpaste. Children need help brushing until around age 6, when they have the dexterity to take over the job themselves — and learn to floss.
Limit sugary drinks and snacks. Sugar is the favorite food of decay-causing oral bacteria. In the process of breaking down that sugar, the bacteria produce tooth-eroding acid. Too much exposure to this acid will leave a small hole, or cavity, in the tooth and create an entry point for the bacteria to reach deeper inside the tooth. Beverages that are sugary AND acidic, such as sodas and sports drinks, are particularly harmful.
Make sure your child sees the dentist regularly. Routine exams and cleanings are a must for good oral health. Even if your child is doing a good job maintaining an oral hygiene routine, there are places where bacterial plaque can build up beyond the reach of a toothbrush and floss. These areas require professional attention. We can also give your child an in-office fluoride treatment to strengthen enamel and reverse very early decay. In some cases, we will recommend dental sealants to smooth out the little grooves in a child's back teeth. This is a quick and easy in-office procedure that will keep out food debris and bacteria for years. And, of course, we can monitor your child's dental development.
If you have any questions about tooth decay or the development of your child's teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dentistry & Oral Health for Children” and “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health.”